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Sunday, March 11, 2007

Ohio Lottery And Major League Baseball: Gambling On Scratch Off Tickets

COLUMBUS (TDB) -- Pete Rose is banished from baseball for betting and breaking its cardinal rule. Now the sport that gave him a lifetime suspension for wagering on the game has slid headfirst into the gambling business. Major League Baseball has cut a deal allowing state lotteries to sell scratch off betting tickets displaying team logos this season. Both the Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds have agreed to sell their names to the Ohio Lottery, which is going to distribute 4 million baseball betting cards.

This is on the agenda for the March 12 Controlling Board meeting:

"Lottery Commission requests Controlling Board approval to waive competitive selection in the amount of $694,615.42 for FY07 to contract with MDI Entertainment, Alpharetta, Georgia, for the Cleveland Indians/Cincinnati Reds scratch-off instant lottery game."

The Daily Bellwether has details of the contract HERE. The deal calls for the baseball betting game to start around Opening Day next month, and the scratch off tickets are going to cost $5 apiece.

It turns out that MLB made a deal with Scientific Games Corp. to sell logos for gambling purposes. The NASDAQ-traded company reported its fourth quarter 2006 results earlier this month and Lorne Weil, chairman and CEO, mentioned that the firm was looking forward to deals with China and baseball that would expand its instant-ticket printing business. Scientific Games supplies tickets to lotteries.

Steve Saferin, president of the Scientific Games subsidiary MDI Entertainment, LLC, inked a deal with the Ohio Lottery on Feb. 15, 2007. Underneath Saferin's signature and the date, somebody wrote "Go Tribe!" CEO Weil remarked in the quarterly statement that his company was making plans for baseball gambling as training camps filled.

"We remain excited about the long term opportunity in China and are optimistic about our ability to penetrate that market. And domestically, we look forward to spring training and the launch of approximately 15 Major League Baseball games during the first and second quarters to 2007."

That was all Weil said in the announcement, which is available HERE. (Check the 6th paragraph.) While no baseball betting tickets are out yet, there is a Detroit Red Wings hockey team lottery scratch off offered by the Michigan Lottery that looks like THIS.

Ohioans won't get cash for betting on the Reds and Indians. The prices will be loges and season tickets, All-Star Game trips, spring training trips and merchandise packages that include hats and team jerseys. The merchandise packs are worth $570 and the lottery plans to have 1,000 winning tickets.

At first blush, baseball's move to cozy up with the gaming industry appears to represent a huge shift away from the sport's traditional aversion to any and all things involving wagering. The Big Leagues suffered a huge scandal when gamblers fixed the 1919 World Series between the Cincinnati Reds and Chicago White Sox. Shoeless Joe Jackson was banned for life, and to this day baseball refuses to recognize his achievements on the field or put him in Cooperstown with other Hall of Famers.

And then there is Rose, a native Ohioan who holds the all-time record for hits. The late Commissioner Bart Giamatti imposed a lifetime ban on Aug. 24, 1989, saying Rose had consorted with gamblers, bet on baseball and the Reds. Giamatti said Rose committed baseball's ultimate crime and had to pay the maximum penalty.

"Let no one think it did not hurt baseball. That hurt will pass, however, as the great glory of the game asserts itself and a resilient institution goes forward. Let it also be clear that no individual is superior to the game."

Rose has applied for reinstatement. It has never been granted. He has admitted his denials about betting on baseball were false. Now the game that exiled him has gone into the gambling business, something almost unthinkable. Still, there is no room for Charlie Hustle. But plenty, it now seems, for a hustle.

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